Baby rabbits are very cute and cuddly, and if you have a sensitive wife like mine she will no doubt want to hold and pet the babies. It may even seem that you “need” to mess with them, as mother rabbits do not tend to her babies like most other animals do. It is really easy to think that a doe is not feeding her babies and that may stir you to try to bottle feed yours. However, this is generally not the case.
Unless the mother rabbit is known to be dead, she is probably feeding her babies, even if you think she is ignoring them. Rabbit does feed their babies only twice per day, and then leave them alone. This is normal and natural: in the wild, a mother rabbit not in the process of feeding her offspring stays as far away from the nest as possible to avoid attracting predators to her babies.
If you’re messing with the babies too much she won’t take care of them. It is her natural instinct to lead predators away from the nest so she will NEVER nurse of care for her babies if she sees you as messing with them. (unless she totally trusts you, which in that case congrats, why are you reading this as you need to teach me….)
Things to Think About Before “Helping”
Sometimes mama rabbit seems to be “ignoring” her litter, this can be a way to keep predators away from the nest. Before you check the babies understand that you may be interfering with the natural process.
If their bellies are round and full-looking, they’re warm, their skin is a healthy dark pink, and not too wrinkled, and they are sleeping, then mama is feeding them.
However, if the babies are very wrinkled, cold, bluish in color, have shrunken bellies, and perhaps are even crawling around looking for food, then you may have to feed them.
If the babies really need to be fed, here is how we go about bottle feeding baby rabbits:
- nursing syringes
- We get ours from the local co-op, but you can order them online.
- KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer)
- Heat the formula to about 105f
- Without a doubt the most important thing to avoid is aspiration (inhalation) of formula by the babies. The smallest drop of formula in the lungs can cause fatal pneumonia or drowning. This happens more often than not.
- Feed the baby rabbit very small drops, just touched to the lips. The kit should try to lick the milk off its mouth. Be prepared for the kit to move around when its mouth is touched. Have also a paper towel or absorbent cloth at hand to mop any extra milk or fluid that runs up into the nostrils. Blot often!
- Feed the kit very small amounts until it gets the taste of what you are giving. At this point they will often demand more … don’t give it to them! Keep the small amounts going as long as the kit will take them … then give it a break of fifteen minutes to half an hour and do some more.
- When the belly is tense, they’ve had enough until they urinate….. or until the tenseness vanishes and they are showing signs of hunger again. Since most nursing formulas are lower in nutrient content than doe milk, it is important to keep the kit full and well-hydrated.
- When you are done feeding it helps to stimulate their bodies to get rid of waste. Normally the momma doe would lick their bellies until they void themselves, what we do is to gently rub a finger down their belly. I have heard that if they have litter mates, the natural jostling they give each other will do the same thing.
IN CASE OF ACCIDENTAL ASPIRATION.
If the baby aspirates formula, it will completely block the airway and cause the baby to pass out. This is normally a death sentence, but the following “Bunny Heimlich” maneuver is the only hope of saving the little one.
- Hold the baby very firmly between your palms, one on each side of the rabbit
- Stabilize the back and neck firmly so they do not move at all, raise the baby above your head, so his nose is pointing up.
- Use a firm, downward motion to swing the kit towards your feet. Your trying to use centrifugal force to expel the thick formula, but not trying to recreate the G-Force from a fighter plane. Don’t go too fast or too violently.
- Repeat the procedure two or three times, as necessary. The weight of the baby’s internal organs pressing against the diaphragm when you swing downwards usually provides enough pressure to expel air from the lungs, as well as the drop of milk blocking the airway.
- Once you feel the baby begin to move, STOP IMMEDIATELY.
- Consult with your veterinarian about whether or not to place the baby on prophylactic antibiotics to prevent aspiration pneumonia.